The Bryan Carmody Story | In-Depth


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The Bryan Carmody Story - In-Depth

On May 10, 2019, San Francisco police showed up at the home of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, equipped with a sledgehammer and pickax that they used to try to batter down his front gate. Guns drawn, officers placed Carmody in handcuffs for hours while they raided his home and office, seizing a trove of electronic devices and other materials.

The raid, part of an investigation into the leak of a police report on the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, quickly sparked national outrage. Press-freedom advocates, politicians and others criticized the police department’s heavy-handed tactics — and its clear violation of California law, which prohibits the use of search warrants to seize a journalist’s notes and other materials.

FAC stepped in immediately, answering Carmody’s call for help on the day of the raid by securing qualified legal counsel to protect his rights. FAC then rallied a coalition of groups to file a motion to unseal the police department’s applications for search warrants, to seek more transparency in the ordeal.

California law could not be more clear: Authorities may not use a search warrant to seize material protected by the state’s journalist shield law. That law, among the nation’s strongest, generally prevents government officials from obtaining journalists’ unpublished materials, including confidential sources. And yet police obtained five warrants from five different judges to search Carmody’s property and phones. Then those records remained hidden from the public, concealing critical information about how a journalist who contributed to coverage of Adachi’s death — and then refused to give up his source — became the target of raid.

FAC’s motion to unseal the search warrant records should not have been necessary: Under California law, the affidavits should have quickly been made public. Instead, FAC and its coalition partners (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists, NorCal Chapter) were forced to wage a lengthy courtroom battle to bring light to the now-infamous ordeal. 

Additionally, FAC filed two open-records lawsuits for information related to the police search and underlying events. See FAC v. SFPD, Mayor London Breed filed in San Francisco Superior Court under the California Public Records Act and Carmody v. FBI filed in the Northern District of California under the Freedom of Information Act. And we continue to advocate for journalists’ rights, including giving legal education about shield protections. See more about our Subpoena Defense Initiative.